Thursday, March 20, 2008

Holy Week - The Last Supper

Note: In Christian circles, the week prior to Easter is sometimes called Holy Week or Passion Week. It marks the week in time in which Christians believe Jesus of Nazareth entered into Jerusalem, was executed by crucifixion, and was resurrected from the grave. In honor of this important time in the hearts of Christians everywhere, this week's stamp entries have a direct correlation to that week approximately 2000 years ago.

According to the New Testament, on the final night of Jesus's life he had gathered his followers (disciples) and ate a last meal together. During this evening, he also revealed what was about to befall him. Historically, this his been called The Last Supper.

When Jesus and his disciples had gathered, Jesus began instructing them on the need to be servants. Because sandals were worn in the dry, dusty environment of Jerusalem and Jesus needed to show his disciples that they should serve others, he proceeded to wash their feet.

He also revealed to his followers that his days on earth were numbered and that he would soon be leaving them.

It was also during this evening that Jesus instituted the practice that was to become known as the Eucharist, or Lord's Supper. During this time, Jesus tells the disciples that the bread is symbolic of his body and the wine is symbolic of his blood which was shed for mankind.

In a later passage in the New Testament, the Apostle Paul records the event and its significance to believers:
... the Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, "This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me." In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me." For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.
- 1 Corinthians 11:23b-26
New International Version

Throughout history, artists have tried to capture the poignancy of the disciples' last meal with Jesus. Many artists of the Byzantine and Renaissance eras tried to illustrate that evening for their Christian audience.

For the bicentennial of the Torshavn Cathedral in the Faroe Islands, the Faroese Post issued a set of three stamps celebrating the church's history. The stamp pictured here depicts the altarpiece which contains a painting of The Last Supper. The painting was derived from an earlier work by artist Peter Candid (also known as Peter De Witte). The 500 ├śre stamp was engraved by Czeslaw Slania, master engraver, and was issued in 1989. It is assigned Scott #187.

The image in the altarpiece, like the more famous Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci, reveal several liberties that artists took when depicting the events of New Testament times. For example, in the Middle East, it was common for people to recline around a low table. In fact, the biblical accounts reference how one of the disciples was laying against Jesus. Both this image, and da Vinci's, show the participants sitting around a table.

Another feature that is noticed is that the depictions usually show Jesus as the focal point of the table, and with no one sitting opposite of him. While this was done so as to show Jesus as the centerpiece of the artwork, in all likelihood, every spot at the table was occupied.

Also, note that most early depictions of Jesus and his disciples show them in clothes representative of the era of the artwork, not of the New Testament era. Jesus and his disciples probably wore cloaks or tunics during that time.

Regardless of these trivial features, the paintings, frescoes, and murals depicting the Last Supper are all attempts to draw the viewer into the picture and to illustrate the last evening that Jesus was alive on earth.

Previous Holy Week Entries:

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